Romenesko has got a few links up on a simmering controversy over the devastation in New Orleans. When hungry people grab food from abandoned grocery stores, are they responding rationally to unusual circumstances? Or are they looting?
Incredibly, this Boing Boing item suggests that the difference in at least one case may depend on whether the person is white or black: a white couple is described as “finding” food, whereas a black man had apparently grabbed his goodie bag by “looting” a store. As you will see, the two pictures are remarkably alike.
Yes, we’re talking about two different news agencies, and as the item itself notes, we have no way of knowing whether there were circumstances that might justify such labeling. But it’s hard to disagree with Romenesko letter-writer Christina Pazzanese, who says, “Perhaps these photos will stimulate a media ‘gut check’ as we race to tell the stories of the thousands who lost their lives and livelihoods.”
Last night I was watching CNN when I saw some folks – I don’t remember their race – described as “looters.” They were walking out of an abandoned grocery store with what appeared to be food and other essentials. (And yes, I realize there is real looting going on, too, but that’s not what I’m talking about.) What’s happening in New Orleans is horrible, and is likely to get worse. Editors need to stop and think about how they describe people who find themselves in a desperate situation.